What had been a four-man fight for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship has seemingly turned into a one-on-one battle between defending series champ Matt Crafton and Ryan Blaney.
Johnny Sauter’s bid for the title effectively ended three races ago at Talladega, and last weekend in Texas, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace’s engine failure likely finished his own hopes off.
So now, we’re left with the classic “experience vs. youth” battle between Crafton, a 14-year series veteran, and Blaney, who at the ripe old age of 20 is in position to become the youngest champion in series history.
Crafton is up by 23 points over Blaney as the series begins its weekend at Phoenix International Raceway today with a pair of practice sessions ahead of Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150.
Neither man has won in their Truck Series careers at the one-mile “Desert Jewel.” Needless to say, whichever of the two can change that on Friday will have momentum on their side going into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend.
Blaney has collected two Top-10 finishes at PIR in as many starts, but the advantage could be with Crafton. His experience with the track dates all the way back to his time in the regional NASCAR Southwest Tour, which spawned the likes of current Sprint Cup superstars Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch and Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr.
“Phoenix is like a home track to me. I’ve got a ton of laps around there since the late 90’s – when I raced a late model around there. We finished fifth there last year trying to protect the points lead and wrap up the championship, so hopefully we can get a win there this year in front of all our friends and family that come out for this race.”
As for Blaney, he’ll be focusing on pit road as a place where he can make up ground in Friday’s race – but also as where he can make a costly error that could put him in a deeper points hole going to Homestead.
“[Phoenix is] still very tough to pass and that makes it more important as a driver to get on pit road good, get in your box – don’t get a speeding penalty but get to the max of your capability on speed entering and leaving the pits,” he said.
Today’s Truck Series practice sessions at PIR will run from 3-3:55 p.m. ET and from 5:30-7 p.m. ET.